A few drinks in and festival giddy, I stood in a field between two of my closest friends at the southern United State’s favourite indie gathering, Shaky Knees. The sun had just set, giving way to a more than welcome cool breeze when the stage lit up in soft pink neon light and The 1975 appeared. The predominantly young female audience went off like a siren.
Even on the outskirts of the crowd where we had strategically placed ourselves, the waves of screams were disorienting. Front-man, Matty Healy, chastised the crowd in jest, saying “calm your passions.” I laughed knowingly.
You see, I’m not very good at just liking things.
I’ve rarely been able to embody ambivalent or causal adoration and that feeling is amplified, (pun intended) when it comes to music. I, much like those fans that day, have lost it at many a live show, and because of that fact, I understood the near impossible request he’d given.
Just one month after I’d bared witnessed to this rejected request, I was scrolling through my twitter feed, minding my own businesses when a post hit me right between the eyes. It was tweeted by MTV editor, Jessica Hopper, and read:
“Suggestion: replace the word “fan girl” with “expert” and see what happens.”
It may seem crazy to equate opinions typed in 140 characters or less to scripture, but for me the impact of those words were staggering.
As a career “fangirl” who cut her teeth on The Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys before finding a home in post-punk and indie rock, the true dismissive nature of the term had somehow been lost on me until reading those words. Those hours of research and backlogs of live shows had always been more than hysterics – they had made me a subject matter expert.
The Merriam-Webster definition of fangirl is “a girl or woman who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something.”
That denotation seems fair enough, but there’s always been something about the term that makes it feel derogatory. Maybe it’s because we don’t use “fan boy” with equal disdain or much at all. It’s ok to be a male fan, to wear your favourite team’s shirt and travel far and wide for the chance to loudly chant at a football game – but adhere a “girl” at the end of fan, and the meaning changes completely.
Sandra Song nailed it in her Pitchfork article, stating that “”Fangirl” allows people to dismiss women as false enthusiasts with no real critical perspective or stake in the music itself.”
Calling female fans “fangirls” has always been a shortcut preferred over taking the long trip of figuring out the “why” behind the appeal of certain bands to young female audiences. It’s the same reason that in 1964, journalist Paul Johnson wrote that “Beatlemania” was an incarnation of female hysteria – calling the Beatles’ fans “the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures,” a theory that was actually proven wrong during a study on The Beatles and their connection to adolescent enthusiasm.
When talking about fandom in an MTV interview, Healy acknowledged the intelligence of female fandom, saying “Anybody of any kind of intellect understands that the most active people as consumers of music are young women. The most active people on social media, when you come to talking about music, are young women,” he continued, saying, “There’s fans of ours that I meet that are far smarter than me. Of course they scream and they go wild — but if I was young and really, really excited, and drunk, and my favourite band was there, I’d be screaming and going wild!”
These young women are more than just novice listeners. They’re even more than just subject matter experts – they’re investors. They allocate their time and money into bands, giving them a future where they can sell out shows and reach the top of charts regardless of whether or not they’re critical darlings.
I sometimes think back to that day in the field, standing with my friends, festival giddy and laughing knowingly at the crowd that went off like a siren.
But now when I look back, I realise the volume of those disoriented screams, and the screams before them, could be tallied up into data points. Those screams have forecasted the meteoric rises of my favourite band, maybe even your favourite band, and so many bands who are successful because fanbases composed predominately of young woman. That’s not something to be dismissed. That’s something to be appreciated.
Words by Erica Hawkins